Get used to the zone defense Nets' fans, because we may be seeing a lot of it in the next few games. Even before looking at any video, you can tell that the Nets really struggled against the zone on Sunday. They went from scoring 61 points in the first half, to scoring just 36 in the second.
The Nets struggle against the zone because they don't have the personnel to shoot their way out of it. Usually when a team runs a zone, they do it just to switch things up, and when the opposing team hits a shot or two, they get out of it switching back to man. The Nets never hit "a shot or two" against the Knicks. So if the Nets struggled so much against the zone, why haven't we seen it more? Well, to be honest teams were beating the Nets so handily, that there was no reason to employ it. The Nets might see it a lot more now because the Nets are going to be going up against teams that have been struggling and teams the Nets might be able to get a lead on late in the second half. If that happens expect to see zone. I am going to share some clips with you guys and explain what the Nets are doing wrong against the zone, and what they can do to beat the zone, and force teams to go to man.
We see the first defensive zone possession for the Knicks in the middle of the third quarter. The Nets weren't scoring a lot, but they were getting easy baskets inside, in fact, on their last possession Brook Lopez slipped a screen for an easy dunk.
Since this is the first time in the second half that the Knicks run a zone, it takes a little while for the Nets to get situation. Devin waits for everyone to get into their spots before swinging the ball to CDR on the wing.
This is actually a pretty well designed quick-hitter off the zone, as Brook makes a cut to the low post as the zone is shifting and breaks open for a second. If CDR wants to make this pass, he is going to have to make it as soon as he gets the ball. Quick ball movement is key to beating the zone because if you make quick passes along the outside, the zone is going to have to keep shifting, and eventually someone can sneak inside.
CDR doesn't make the pass, and by the time he looks up to try and pass it to Brook, he now has two guys on him clogging the middle. The fact that Trenton Hassell decided to cut right next to Brook doesn't help things either.
By the time Brook finally does get the ball, the zone has settled, and they are in their correct positions to defend the post-up (They have 4 guys in the area to defend Brook). The interesting thing about this is CDR, he cuts through the lane, which is something you do against man-to-man defenses to clear the lane for the post-up player. You don't do it against the zone though. That tells me that CDR didn't recognize the zone right away, and that could be part of the reason he didn't look to get Brook the ball inside.
CDR finishes his cut at the opposite end of the floor, and this illustrates another thing the Nets do wrong against the zone. Poor court spacing. Look at how close everyone is bunched together on the weakside of the court. That allows for one man (Larry Hughes) to cover three people. Since there are now two defenders on the court who don't really have to worry about anyone, they can both turn their attention to Brook.
Brook, realizing he isn't going to be able to do anything with the ball kicks it out to Devin who quickly swings it to Trenton Hassell. The Nets got the zone moving again, and one more quick pass to Courtney Lee gets him a shot. Hassell could even dump it in the middle to Brook, who has gained inside position now that the zone is moving. He could have even taken a quick jumper since the quick ball movement got him open for a second. Instead, Hassell holds onto the basketball, pump fakes, and the zone settles again.
Hassell ends up being forced to take a contested shot that rims out.
Since the Nets seemed to struggle with the zone the first time, the Knicks decided to run it the next time down. Now since the Nets were surprised by the zone, it is understandable that they struggled against it the first time. You would expect for their second trip against the zone to be much smoother right? Uh...
The Nets have what seem to be the makings of a good play right here. The court is spaced properly and they got Trenton Hassell in the middle. Getting the ball in the middle of the zone is another way you get beat it. When you get the ball in the middle of the zone, everyone collapses on you, and it gets players open on the perimeter for an easy shot. For some strange reason though, Devin Harris points to Trenton Hassell and calls for him to come out to the three point line.
Hassell listens to his PG, and now becomes an easier cover for the zone.
After some pump-faking, the ball gets swung to CDR. Again, Brook flashes to the lowpost and is open for a second, but CDR doesn't pull the trigger on the pass.
After holding the ball for 2 whole seconds (which is way too long against the zone), the Knicks now have the zone set up the way they want it. This is also where the Nets poor shooting comes into play. The Knicks are defending the Nets inside out, trying to keep the ball on the outside, knowing that the Nets can't shoot the ball right now. A quick pass to Trenton Hassell or Devin Harris here, and the Nets get an open jumper. The Knicks are giving that up. The poor shooting of the Nets allow the Knicks to bunch up inside and smother Brook. Lopez only got three shots in the lane against the Knicks in the second half, and this is why.
How To Beat The Zone
So how do you beat the zone? Like I said earlier, you do it with good floor spacing and crisp ball movement. If you have good floor spacing and balance, you stretch the zone out, forcing each defender to cover more area. This allows for bigger passing lanes. Quick ball movement gets the zone moving around, and eventually you can get guys in the middle of the zone because of it. Out of all the times the Nets went up against the zone, they only did it once. No surprise, it lead to an easy lay-up for Brook.
If the Nets would have done that the first couple times the Knicks went zone against them, the Knicks would have backed out of it, and it would have allowed for the Nets to go back to attacking the Knicks poor man-to-man defense.